Paul Rudd’s charm overcame mixed reviews, but the poor opening in China means global totals for most MCU films will be diminished
Even as the grumblings that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is past its prime have gotten louder, the opening weekend of “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” has shown that Hollywood’s top franchise is still a dependable hit machine. At the same time, the sub-$1 billion global totals MCU films have earned in the past year are likely to be the norm if the new movie’s poor Chinese launch is a sign of things to come.
How far “Ant-Man 3” goes over the next month will say a lot about Marvel’s ability to create charming superheroes that audiences want to see over and over again, regardless of critics’ reviews. The studio’s new releases continue to struggle against word of mouth that falls short of the effusive praise the MCU consistently got prior to “Avengers: Endgame.” And the movie will face off against a crowded slate as more studios joust for audiences returning to theaters, including Warner Bros./New Line’s “Shazam! Fury of the Gods,” MGM’s “Creed III” and Lionsgate’s “John Wick: Chapter 4.”
“Quantumania” has garnered scores from critics and general audiences that nearly match the franchise lows posted by “Eternals” in fall 2021, with a 48% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes, a B on CinemaScore, and a 3.5/5 score among general audiences on Comscore/Screen Engine’s PostTrak. But despite this, “Quantumania” has earned Marvel Studios its fifth straight $100 million-plus domestic opening with a $105 million three-day/$120 million four-day launch, beating the $71.2 million opening of “Eternals” and the $75.8 million opening of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” in 2018.
That’s a sign that unlike “Eternals,” which struggled to introduce its large cast of immortal warriors in a way audiences would embrace, “Quantumania” is drawing in significant crowds thanks to Paul Rudd and the work he’s put in charming audiences as Ant-Man since debuting as the character in 2015. It’s also likely that hardcore Marvel fans were showing up early on opening weekend to catch their first glimpse of Jonathan Majors as Kang, the new overarching villain for the MCU.
Interest among more casual audiences, who are key to holdover box office totals, will likely take a hit due to the mixed word of mouth, but insiders at Disney point to the film’s 84% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes as a sign of better reception among the public. PostTrak scores from families were stronger than general audiences with 5/5 among kids and 4.5/5 among parents, though they only accounted for 16% of the opening weekend crowd.
A more foreboding sign for the film’s global box office potential is its extremely poor $19.2 million opening in China, more than 70% below the $66 million opening earned there by “Ant-Man and the Wasp” in July 2018.
It’s very likely the de facto blackout that Chinese officials put on Marvel and most other Hollywood blockbusters in 2021 and 2022 likely had an impact on “Quantumania.” Given the interconnected nature of the MCU, it is quite possible that millions of Chinese moviegoers have lost interest in the franchise. Six films released over the last two years, including “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” skipped theaters in the lucrative market.
At the same time, it is also possible that this waning interest spreads to many other Hollywood franchises. While “Avatar: The Way of Water” did very well in China, with nearly $250 million grossed there, few other films have received a release in the country over the past year. Insiders at Disney said they will be weighing options to reignite Chinese interest in Marvel after spending all of the MCU’s Phase Four out of cinemas there, but will be monitoring the performance of other blockbusters set for Chinese release — including “Shazam 2” — before making any major decisions.
So where does that leave the box office outlook for “Ant-Man 3”? If we use the domestic performance of “Thor: Love and Thunder” as a comparison point — that film opened to $144 million and finished with $343 million domestic for a 2.38 multiple — then “Quantumania” should be able to at least reach $225 million in North America, putting it past the unadjusted $216.6 million total of “Ant-Man and the Wasp.”
“Shazam!,” “Creed III” and the new “John Wick” film aren’t likely to gain the four-quadrant appeal of an MCU film, but combined they could become stifling competition for “Ant-Man” during holdover weekends if their word of mouth is strong.
As for the global total for “Quantumania,” it’s likely that the higher domestic total compared to “Ant-Man and the Wasp” will be counterbalanced by a much lower Chinese total. The rest of the international market is seeing numbers roughly consistent with “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” with $102 million this weekend compared to $98 million for the opening weekend of “Wasp.” It’s unclear whether the lack of summer playtime will lead to shorter legs.
This likely leaves “Quantumania” with a global total in the $600 million range, around the neighborhood of the $622.6 million of “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” That will be a decent result for this film considering the box office record of “Ant-Man” and the new normal studios face where Chinese revenue is merely a bonus rather than a reliable pillar for $1 billion-plus global totals.
But if “Quantumania” shows that MCU goodwill is shielding this franchise from truly flopping, it also shows that most installments going forward shouldn’t expect the soaring highs of the pre-pandemic years. MCU fans are as devoted as ever, but casual audiences may skip films that don’t hit “must-see” status.
If there’s any film that can buck the current trend for Marvel the way “Spider-Man: No Way Home” did, it’s probably “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.” The heroes of James Gunn’s series are among the most popular still active in the MCU and this trilogy-capper is being teased as a farewell for at least some of those characters.
The MCU films that come after that, which include “The Marvels,” “Captain America: New World Order” and “Thunderbolts,” are more focused on characters introduced or primarily developed after “Avengers: Endgame,” making it less likely that they will have built-in interest beyond hardcore fans. And given how much these films play off each other, moviegoers who fell off the Marvel bandwagon may lose interest in getting back on, turning what has been the MCU’s greatest strength into its Achilles’ heel.
Box Office Reporter • firstname.lastname@example.org • Twitter: @jeremyfuster